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When smokers quit: exposure to nicotine and carcinogens persists from thirdhand smoke pollution


Background Over a 6-month period, we examined tobacco smoke pollutants (also known as thirdhand smoke, THS) that remained in the homes of former smokers and the exposure to these pollutants.

Methods 90 smokers completed study measures at baseline (BL). Measures were repeated among verified quitters 1 week (W1), 1 month (M1), 3 months (M3) and 6 months (M6) following cessation. Measures were analysed for THS pollutants on household surfaces, fingers and in dust (ie, nicotine, tobacco-specific nitrosamines) and for urinary markers of exposure (ie, cotinine, 4-(methylnitrosamino)-1-(3-pyridyl)-1-butanol (NNAL)).

Results We observed significant short-term reduction of nicotine on surfaces (BL: 22.2 μg/m2, W1: 10.8 μg/m2) and on fingers of non-smoking residents (BL: 29.1 ng/wipe, W1: 9.1 ng/wipe) without further significant changes. Concentrations of nicotine and nicotine-derived nitrosamine ketone (NNK) in dust did not change and remained near BL levels after cessation. Dust nicotine and NNK loadings significantly increased immediately following cessation (nicotine BL: 5.0 μg/m2, W1: 9.3 μg/m2; NNK BL: 11.6 ng/m2, W1: 36.3 ng/m2) before returning to and remaining at near BL levels. Cotinine and NNAL showed significant initial declines (cotinine BL: 4.6 ng/mL, W1: 1.3 ng/mL; NNAL BL: 10.0 pg/mL, W1: 4.2 pg/mL) without further significant changes.

Conclusions Homes of smokers remained polluted with THS for up to 6 months after cessation. Residents continued to be exposed to THS toxicants that accumulated in settled house dust and on surfaces before smoking cessation. Further research is needed to better understand the consequences of continued THS exposure after cessation and the efforts necessary to remove THS.

  • Secondhand smoke
  • Nicotine
  • Cotinine
  • Carcinogens
  • Cessation

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